Diablog: Female Friendships in TV, Part II

Read Part I here.

We're back! Spending more time celebrating complex portrayals of friendship!
Spending more time celebrating complex portrayals of friendship!

Rasha: What were the questions we ended with last time for Female Friendships?

Gemma: What makes the friendships female, and … hold on.

R: Maybe we should take a step back and offer some context on Why We Care about Female Friendships on TV/Film.

G: Sounds good.

R: I mean, for me, it’s a part of appreciating any meaningful relationships that 1) have stakes, and 2) are not strictly romances. Both in fiction and in the world.

G: I would agree on that. I think that friendships are incredibly difficult to create art about. They don’t necessarily have the same dramatic arcs that Romances do, and such arcs are certainly less structured. We don’t know how to value them in text. So I want to honor that and look at what makes their portrayals successful and potent.

R: I have often thought about what a song like “Pancho and Lefty” would look like if it was about a friendship between women. “Pancho and Lefty” seems like a good example of enduring art about a non-romantic relationship (though I am absolutely onboard for shippers!).

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I think if we’re going to talk about the gendered portrayals of friendships, then we might benefit from drawing a couple of examples of the Male Friendships storyline tropes. One I can think of: two boys grow up as friends, but their paths diverge until one day they meet again and are fighting on opposite sides.

G: Hah. Yes. That is a thing. Starting with The Fox and the Hound.

R : Taking that trope all the way back to AESOP, YALL.

G: Oh, I meant the Disney cartoon.

Is it weird that this is the first thing I thought of for that subject?
Is it weird that this is the first thing I thought of for that subject?

R : But that kind of ish has been in the water, right, for a long time. I resist D*sney owning ancient stories. But we don’t often end up with stories about women that follow that particular archetype, do we? Kill Bill is perhaps one.

G: Which I’ve never seen, but I believe you.

R: But it still comes back to Bill being the most important relationship, and I don’t get the sense the lady assassins were ever really friends to begin with.

This is a photograph of Lucy Liu. Gemma put it in this post as a present for Rasha.
This is a photograph of Lucy Liu. Gemma put it in this post as a present for Rasha.

G: I mean, Scandal‘s kinda trying to pull it off now.

R: Yeah, I will admit that for Scandal.

We find ourselves on different sides …
We find ourselves on different sides …

I feel like Lara Croft-era Angelina Jolie could have handled female storylines of that sort, but not many storytellers are getting at that now. Issa Rae’s Insecure is perhaps another example of Friends with Divergent Life Paths.

I can't wait to watch Insecure!
I can’t wait to watch Insecure!

G: Another manly trope is worship to friendship.

R: ? Explains pls.

G: Sort of like Holt and Peralta on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The one where the mentor and the mentee become True Friends once the mentee gains his manliness. I mean, Holt and Peralta are a variation, and one I find refreshing.

R : Damages is the first show that comes to mind for a female example of that trope, but that *ish is DARQ.

Do they ever really overcome their obstacles?
Do they ever really overcome their obstacles?

G: It is. I don’t know that we could get to the point where we call Patty and Ellen friends …

R : Well, they are mentor-mentee and then move to more equals/rivals.

Okay. Yeah. That's fair.
Okay. Yeah. That’s fair.

Perhaps this brings us to what is interesting about looking at consequential female relationships that are friendships rather than Rivalries. I mean, it is a tired sad cliche for women to always be at each other’s throats/backs/wigs. Like, Mean Girls is not on my list for this reason.

G: Agreed, although I was rewatching some old Sex and the City and it is definitely on my list. I was noting how carefully they avoided that particular trope.

Tropes abound, but not female cattiness rivalries.
Tropes abound, but not female cattiness rivalries.

R: The Craft’s first two acts are actually pretty satisfying for a portrayal of consequential teen girl friendship, but it gets stupid in the last act.

G: I haven’t seen The Craft since I was myself a teen girl.

R: It stands up better than you think it does, except for the last act. I really wished there had been a more satisfying resolution to the plot than the coven turning on each other when one member gets all power-hungry and jealous, and then the one girl with the most power being awful to the others at the end. I have not watched SATC, but it does seem notable for a show that could so easy be catty to be not catty.

G: It of course has a lot of issues, though I’m with Emily Nussbaum that it is often the scapegoat for the class and race problems that are significant but common to ’90s TV because it doesn’t have a male protagonist. But its portrayals of friendship are really nuanced and full, and it manages never to create romantic rivalry in a show that’s all about sex. Fights are about the way that they care for each other. It’s very potent as a writing of friendship.

R : Not that cattiness can’t be delicious, but that it must be shared between characters and tempered with other feelings and actions. Thinking here of Cristina and Meredith, and Jackie and O’Hara.

G: Yes, when there’s cattiness with Jackie and O’Hara, one about the other, it’s related to something other than Women Being Catty, and when they’re catty about other people it’s a shared and specific pleasure.

Snarky side commentary is not a terrible thing.
Snarky side commentary is not a terrible thing.

R: I think that notion of Caring for Each Other is a defining point of truthful dramatization of Female Friendships.

G: I’d agree. My sister sees Friends as the genesis of the now-common TV trope of your friends being your family, but like a lot of ’90s sitcoms, it was not a particularly compassionate show.

R: Lourdes, I don’t know if I want to give Friends that credit, especially since I watched Living Single instead of that show, but I do think it’s true that the ‘90s brought about a certain era of friend groups being a cast rather than rom-com, family or workplace comedy/drama. Then I think of the best of Kalinda/Alicia and I think of Solving Problems together using complementary skillsets as another feature.

Sometimes partners in crime … or criminal defense … or whatever.
Sometimes partners in crime … or criminal defense … or whatever.

That dynamic is also very much present Orphan Black.

G: I could see that, yeah. It’s an outgrowth of the opposites-attract phenomenon, looking at how women counterbalance each other to solve problems. Very much part of the early Kalinda-Alicia dynamics. A little odder in OB. What Rizzoli and Isles traffics in.

If only opposites attracted people with better acting skills.
If only opposites attracted people with better acting skills.

R: OB is hilarious in its Opposites Attract/Sameness Repels/We’re the Same and Also Opposite dynamics. I am so looking forward to that show returning! For its final season, Sigh.

G: Yeah, it’s kind of adorable, that aspect.

We're the same, but we're not, but we are!
We’re the same, but we’re not, but we are!

And yes, I am so sad it is the last season!

R : Are there other tropes/archetypes we can think of either in Wo/Manly friendship tales?

G: I mean, we mentioned the Wild One and the Stable One, and their reversals. I was thinking about that in Jane and Lina on JTV.

Sometimes the Stable One gets Wilder.
Sometimes the Stable One gets Wilder.

R: (OMG, they killed Michael and I’ve been trying not to gloat!) I’m not sure that I have a concise way of describing it, but I think there’s something.

G: (Oh gracious yes, just caught up this weekend!)

R: (I haven’t yet, but read about the spoiler because it was gratifying)

G: (It was not the best death, all things considered, and now they’re doing a time jump)

R: K, we shall revisit sometime. Back to tropes: I feel like there’s a mirroring aspect to female friendships in TV and in real life that can be alternatingly affirmative, motivating, and abrasive. Women see themselves or their possible selves or the selves they won’t ever be in other women and friends. This happens in all human relationships, right, but I think there’s a particular flavor in women’s lives and friendships. Partly that compulsory comparison arises from struggling with patriarchal/heteronormative expectations and sifting our own desires for our lives from the desires others have for us. In men’s stories on TV/Film, I think I see more often that dudes are comparing their choices in the past/present with the choices of their friends/former friends.

G: Huh. I believe that. I think there’s a more empathetic aspect to at least the portrayals of women’s friendships, like the characters are genuinely living out each other’s lives a bit rather than competing. That sounds essentialist when I say it, but I think it’s there.

R: With women, it seems like there are more instances of comparing futures. I’m thinking specifically of one of Sandra Oh’s last season on GA, when Cristina flashes forward through different versions of her life and decides to leave Owen.

G: How does that compare to Meredith’s?

R: One of the lives she imagines is being at a kid’s birthday party with Mer, and Xtina is pregnant with her 2nd/3rd kid and they’re being moms together, and she hates it.

G: Ah.

R: She sees how Meredith’s life allows her to combine career and love and family, but that dynamic is not accessible or desirable to Cristina.

They may be beloved buddies, but they don't necessarily have the same needs.
They may be beloved buddies, but they don’t necessarily have the same needs.

G: Ahhhh, gotcha.

R: That last season with Sandra Oh really brought me back to Grey’s.

G: I remember. When you were brought back to Grey’s, I mean. There’s a lot of that in Jackie and O’Hara, too, in the way that O’Hara comes to her pregnancy.

R: Say more, I haven’t seen the latter seasons.

G: There are aspects of Jackie’s life that O’Hara envies and she really weighs what she wants and what she can have. And as Jackie spirals, O’Hara gets pregnant but very, very committed to raising a child without a partner, which seems to rise in part of out of watching Jackie damage her own partners so significantly.

Not to mention damaging O'Hara.
Not to mention damaging O’Hara.

R: Yarr.

G: And there’s also this slightly creepy aspect to the pregnancy, where O’Hara recognizes that Jackie can no longer hold her loneliness and she needs something/someone else to do so.

R: I would still love to see a female friendships storyline on par with Pancho and Lefty. Something that is more epic and revolutionary in scale, but that incorporates some of the dynamics we talked about here. Something that weaves the creative and destructive and difficult together. I would absolutely cast Michelle Yeoh.

G: I would be ready for that. I want to see Archie Panjabi remain in a friendship dynamic that is worthy of whatever brilliant character she creates.

R: The Mills sisters actually had a lot of that potential.

G: Yeah, if only Sleepy Hollow weren’t so limited by format. And I also think family friendships are different.

R: They are, but that sisters sh*t was thick and juicy! I will accept.